We welcomed Lori Sturdevant’s column “Hypotheticals: Met Council edition” (July 9), which raised what-ifs about the governance structure of the Metropolitan Council. We agree that a partisan gubernatorial appointment process has led to ever-growing concerns with a lack of trust and credibility among the Met Council, local elected officials and public stakeholders.
The body charged with the responsibility and authority to guide the region’s growth and provide important regional services needs something better.
A broad, nonpartisan coalition of local elected officials has been meeting over the past two years to address these concerns. The goal with which we began was to better align local governments with the Met Council and ensure that the council is more accountable to the interests of citizens, that it represents local and regional values more effectively, and that it benefits from continuity in leadership. We also considered how to address issues of public trust raised by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.
The result was a proposal to change the way members of the powerful Met Council are appointed, bringing greater transparency and openness. Every other major regional planning organization in the U.S. has a majority of locally elected members. The Met Council is an exception with its membership comprised solely of nonelected individuals appointed by the governor.
The Metropolitan Governance Transparency Initiative (MGTI), so named by the coalition of counties and cities supporting it, would expand the membership of the council from 17 members to 27. Members would be chosen by the cities and counties they would represent. The only requirement of an appointee would be that he or she must hold an election certificate of some type from the district he or she would represent.
As Democrats, we’re disappointed that this effort and the resulting legislation are being characterized as a scheme by Republicans that favors some communities over others. We’d argue that it’s a nonpartisan effort to restore public trust and remove the partisan nature of the current governance structure.
The MGTI proposal would provide:
Greater accountability to taxpayers: Elected officials are accountable to their constituents. This model would ensure that the Met Council is accountable to those affected by its decisions and enable the council to develop its own regional priorities.
Continuity and stability: Rather than being potentially reconstituted every four years, the restructured council’s membership would not change based on the governor and his or her partisan ideology.
Responsiveness to local and regional issues: Local elected officials are already engaged in their communities and would bring greater awareness and connections to leverage a greater mix of local perspectives. While outgoing Met Council Chair Adam Duininck may think elected officials are unable to think regionally or long-term, we would respectfully disagree. County commissioners have worked for decades on many regional issues, serving on the Transportation Advisory Board, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District and the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board, just to name a few.
Greater efficiencies in government: The Transportation Advisory Board could be eliminated as the council could act on its own as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). This would streamline the process by eliminating a board in the region with overlapping planning and funding responsibilities. Federal law requires that there be elected officials serving on the MPO.
We owe the public this discussion. The MGTI proposal is good policy that connects the Met Council to the constituents it serves — and levies taxes upon — with openness and transparency, making it more effective in its important role of regional governance.
At a time when citizens are demanding greater accountability and transparency in decisionmaking, we can no longer delay action on needed change.
Kathleen A. Gaylord is a Dakota County commissioner and former mayor of South St. Paul. Randy Maluchnik is a Carver County commissioner and former member of the Chaska City Council. More information about the Metropolitan Governance Transparency Initiative can be found at www.metrogovernance.com.